Thursday, May 19, 2011

Saving Brassica Seed

Time to harvest seed, 5-17-11

      Some of the brassica crops from last year seem fully seeded.  In any event, the plants are so large they are getting in the way and shading other plants.  The seed stalk on the left is from the mild tasting mustard plant that was a previous volunteer that overwintered.  Two good attributes to making me want to save some seed.  The yellow flowered plant on the right side are multiple plants of Beedy's Kale that overwintered in a bed of garlic.  Now the kale is shading out the garlic and needs to be removed.  The bees and wasps have loved the flowers of all of the various blooming brassicas, and flocks of Gold Finches fly off from the seed heads as I approach the garden.  But it is time for the seed harvest!

Mild Mustard seed pods, 5-17-11

      These are the seed stalks cut from the mild mustard.  The thingies that look a little like beans are the seed pods.  When they are a little smaller, they are quite tasty eaten raw.  If you open a seed pod in this green state, the seeds are green and soft.  The pods need to dry so the the seed dries to a stable storable state.  You can take individual stalks and strip them of the pods by running your clenched fist along the stalk.  Backwards, from tip to bottom, seems to strip the stems more easily for me.

Mustard Seed Pods, 5-17-11

      These are the stripped pods from the mild mustard.  They need to dry out and turn yellow.  You can actually leave them in the garden to dry, or hang them still attached to the stems from a dry hanging spot.  But as they dry, the pods will often crack and drop their seed, thus you need a container underneath.  The large paper bags formally found in grocery stores would work great to store and dry the seed stalks.  Trouble is finding the bags.
      The seed pods should dry completely and will turn yellow or a straw like color.  The pods will then be brittle and break easily, revealing the little round brown seeds.  Crush the pods by hand or any method you like better.  The pile of seeds and pod chaff can be separated by lightly blowing away the chaff.  Now the seeds are ready for planting this fall for a crop, or early next spring.  I store mine in small envelopes, away from high humidity.  The seeds are also great for sprouting for your very own zesty organic sprouts.  Something fresh from your garden in the middle of winter.  As mustard is basically ground mustard seed and vinegar, you could try to make your own.  I would rather put the seeds in a pepper mill and grind them as a fresh flavor enhancer.
      On 5/7 I harvested the mild mustard seed and Beedy's Kale.  Today I gathered Mizuna mustard seed to dry.  There are many different seeds in the garden that I still want and need to harvest.  The brassica family vegetables are supposed to cross easily so as to make seed saving pointless.  So far I have not had a problem with weird crosses.  Don't know why, so I will continue to save seed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Robin Update, 5-18-11

Then and Now

      The caption unfortunately says it all.  The only change to the shot is that there is now a leaf in the nest attesting to the Mama's decision to move on.  So there are still four eggs in the nest, deserted probably a week ago.  It seemed strange at the time that I could be over at the garden without the screech, screech, screech.  I was hoping to be able to show you some baby birds.  Tis not to be this time around.
      Lou's news is no better.  I slipped and slid my way this morning to see what was going on at his garden after a couple of days of rain.  The first thing I noticed, or more correctly didn't notice, was the robin's nest in his chair.  What happened here?

Empty Chair, 5-18-11  

      You can see the nest on the ground right at the bottom of the green stake in the right corner.  We figure the culprit to be a fox.  So Lou was much further along before his disappointment.  The third nest that was built in the tool enclosure was off limits this morning, as it was surrounded by a moat off water from the recent rains.  Clever Mama.  Sure keeps nosy two legged creatures at bay.  I was able to see activity within the holes in the the enclosure.  Evidence that maybe one Mama is still with babies.  Apparently it is tougher to raise birds than veggies over at the park.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Beneficial Bug Bed

      There are many nasty bugs that we battle continuously.  But there are also beneficial bugs that help us in that fight by often eating the baddies.  But the good bugs also need pollen at times, so I have devoted the space in the bed that contains the compost pile as an area set aside to attract good bugs.  It is planted with perennials and herbs whose flowers should attract beneficial insects, and whose undisturbed plant mass should provide homes for the bugs.  Hopefully more good bugs than bad bugs.

Beneficial bug bed, 5-10-11

      The compost pile is a very important part of the garden for me.  It is therefore located right in the middle of my garden, where it can be accessed easily.  I have yet to dig it out to use the compost, as it just seems to keep breaking down stuff as it is added.  I am sure the run off from the pile is beneficial to the surrounding area.  Perennial flowers are planted at both ends of the bed, to attract beneficial insects as well as to add some color.

Daisies and Columbine, 5-10-11

      To bloom later in the summer will be black eyed susan, purple coneflower, bronze fennel, carrots, bee balm, cosmos and more.  I am thrilled with the number of cosmos volunteers popping up all over the garden.  I had loads of marigolds set seed two years ago, but strangely never got a single volunteer.  Bonnie's garden seems to have thousands, I will ask her for a trade.

Robin Update, 5-12-11

Lou's nest, 5-10-11

      Lou's Mama robin takes her job quite seriously.  She still sits on her nest with the neighbor gardeners only feet away!

Lou's baby birdies, 5-10-11

      They are growing a little bit.  Hard to believe they leave the nest only two weeks after hatching.  One shell is still evident in the nest, though we can't tell if it is a piece or a whole egg.

My nest, 5-10-11

      I am still waiting, mama is still wailing.  My garden is not getting the attention it needs or deserves.  Since the first egg was observed on 4/29, I am expecting some birth activity in my nest tomorrow.  I checked today on the 12th, and still have the four eggs.

Lou's nest, 5-12-11

      Lou's babies are putting on a little size now.  There is one unhatched egg still in the nest.  If it does hatch, that baby is going to be way behind.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Robin Update, 5-7-11

      Lou had said that his robin laid her first egg on Good Friday, two weeks ago yesterday.  So I was hoping to see some babies on my visit to the park today.  The Momma was sitting on her nest, and was unusually brave in staying on the eggs.  I didn't want to force her off the nest, as I suspected her bravery might indicate little birdies.

Momma Lou Robin, 5-7-11

I visited the other nesting site by the tool keeping enclosure.  That Momma flew away quickly to reveal her four eggs still on the nest.  After chatting a few minutes with another gardener, I drove off to my plot, and noticed Lou's robin had left her nest.  Sidled over for a peek.

Two babies, 5-7-11

      Now baby animals are supposed to be cute.  Not these babies.  Major league ugly.  Only a Momma robin could love these little chickies.  They were skinny, and not covered by many feathers.  Only by slight movement was I assured that they were alive.  But alive they were, and Lou is now batting two out of four.  I am sure that in a couple of days, they will be cute, as they extend their little heads out of the nest and demand to be fed.
      I noticed only after looking at this post that one of the eggs above is soon to hatch.  If I double click on the photo, it will enlarge.  The egg on the left has a hole where the soon to be chick is trying to emerge.  How cool is that?
      My robin was a few days behind Lou's bird in building a nest and starting the family process.  So I was not surprised to find eggs instead of chicks.  The eggs are a little cleaner than a few days ago when they were quite muddy after a couple of days of rain.  But Momma was still none to happy with my relatively short visit to the park.

Still waiting, 5-7-11

      One egg that was probably the second one laid, has a white imperfection in the blue coloring.  Maybe that one was laid on Easter Sunday.  Any day now..

Leek and Potato Soup?

      Every year I follow the same routine.  I plant leek seeds in some small container.  A few come up.  They don't look like much.  They get ignored.  Then ignored some more.  Lo and behold, a year goes by, they survived the winter in their little container, and the plant cops should be tracking down yours truly.

Small leeks, 5-6-11, seeded in 2010

      From this unintended yet repeated experiment, we can conclude that leeks are tough little beasties.  And probably should be entitled to a better fate.  Yesterday I had finally gotten around to wanting to plant some beans that I had started on the porch.  But there was a leek in the way.  A solitary leek that had self sprouted from some other leek attempt in the past.  Certainly couldn't be a big problem.  Wrong!
       This was no ordinary leek.  This was a leek that had something to prove.  Leek and potato soup?  This was a leek who wanted to prove he could be THE LEEK in leek and potato soup.  No support cast necessary or desired.

Monster leek, 5-5-11

Leek excavated, 5-5-11

      After his removal from the garden by shovel and brute force, the bed was now ready for the planting of beans.  But the leek will be fondly remembered.

Leek on kitchen table, 5-6-11

      You had better believe I asked for permission to film Mr. Leek on the kitchen table.  Permission was granted.  Ain't he a beauty?  This next shot shows the new crop of leek seedlings ready to be planted.  I already told you about the routine.  But seeing the results, this year I intend to get these babies in the ground.  Oh what a harvest to anticipate next year.

Replacements ready, 5-6-11

      So now for the scrumptious part.  Anybody have a great recipe for Single Leek and Potato Soup?

Ready, willing, and able,   5-6-11

Early May Flowers

      Yesterday's blog showed the lay out of the back yard garden, but did not include pictures of many of the plants currently in bloom.  So here are shots taken yesterday of some color spots around the yard.

Jack-in-the-pulpit and Tree Peony, 5-5-11

Tree Peony, 5-5-11

      The tree peony is in full bloom now, with each flower six inches across.  Unlike the common peony, tree peonies become a small shrub that has branches that don't die back in the winter.  They are very slow growing, and supposedly Do Not like to be moved.  So if you get one, make sure of the spot you put it in because if it likes that spot, it may well outlast you!
      The Jack-in-the-pulpit are in bloom right now, but I forgot to take their picture yesterday.  But they are multiplying out of control, so they are an entrant on the give away list.  Anyone interested?

Ajuga and Pachysandra, 5-5-11

      The ajuga or bugle weed has invaded the Pachysandra bed.  Interesting, as the Pachysandra is quite an invader itself.  I was delighted a few years back when the ajuga appeared in the garden as a single volunteer.  It generally behaves itself, staying in shady areas that don't dry to the bone in summer.  Certainly looks pretty in the bed above in the early morning dappled light.

Weigelia, 5-5-11

Looking through the weigelia, 5-5-11 

      I like the weigelia, as it behaves and stays in bounds most of the time.  It gets pruned maybe every other year, and puts on a beautiful spring blooming session every May.  It continues to do well in a spot that gets very little, if any, direct sun light.

Bleeding Heart and Sweet Woodruff, 5-5-11

Sweet Woodruff, 5-5-11

      I bought the Sweet Woodruff from the donation tent at the Wilmington Flower Market maybe twenty years ago as a little inhabitant in a two inch pot.  I planted it under the White Ash where it took hold before its desire to wander around the yard.  Now it is in several spots, providing a beautiful delicate green back ground with dainty white flowers in early May.  In the dry heat of the summer it gets absolutely decimated and dies back to brown twigs in places.  Don't pull it out!  It will likely return to its full glory in the next damp spring.
      The shot of the Bleeding Heart above is to illustrate just how big they get, if only for a brief time.  The foliage will start to fade to pale yellow shortly, and then die back to the ground.  But they won't be dead, just resting to come back even bigger next year.  This year I probably have ten different clumps around, so please speak up if interested.

Yellow euonymus, 5-5-11

Yellow euonymus, 5-5-11

      The yellow euonymus does not flower, but obviously can add a huge blast of color.  And it sticks around permanently.  While this plant is mainly a ground cover, if not pruned it will grow into a short shrub, or even climb trees to a height of 20 feet or more.  The white variegated form I also have is much less hardy than the yellow form, so may be preferable if you fear an invasion.  All are easy to propagate from branch cuttings, so these little babies could be mailed most anywhere. 

Star of Bethlehem, 5-5-11

     I can clearly remember finding a small clump of Star of Bethlehem growing behind the hedge years ago.  Digging it up and transplanting it to a garden bed.  Proudly telling Cindy that morning that I had found a beautiful little wild flower.  For free!  Well, like the violets to the left in the picture above, we will be at war with these two wildflowers till the day we quit gardening.  Then their legions of offspring will live to battle on with the new homeowners.  I know the violets are edible, so maybe we should just start eating them.  That would stop them in their tracks.  The people at Bellevue put in a butterfly garden last year and even welcomed donations of violets.  Unfortunately, their enthusiasm waned after only two wagonsfull.  The current supply of violets popping up in the back bed makes one afraid to sleep at night lest they should try to move indoors.  I wonder if the Star of Bethlehem bulbs are edible?

Scilla, 5-5-11

      The scilla is a relative of the hyacinths, looking somewhat like a wood hyacinth, only taller.  Yep, I found this clump growing under the back privet hedge and moved it into the garden.  Unfortunately, the leaves just fall to the ground, but the flower stalks are quite lovely.  This bunch should be divided after the plant dies back.  I noticed a couple of days ago that the mother plant behind the hedge is back.  I vaguely remember having left a couple of bulbs there from my previous scavenge.  Had I intended to move the whole clump, I luckily missed some bulbs.

Daisies to bloom soon, 5-5-11
     These daisies are about to bloom soon.  They will be a beautiful sight.  Wouldn't you like them in your garden rather than in my bunny protected enclosure.  While we are digging them out, how many thousand raspberry plants would you like?  I really don't understand why nurseries have to grow the stuff that I can't even get rid of.  And to think the raspberries began their reign as five sticks that arrived by mail.
      Tis time to quit writing, get some breakfast, put on the gloves, and head out to battle.  Garden on.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I have another garden

      Most of my blog entries have been about my garden plot over at Bellevue State Park.  A couple of minutes ago, I took the screen out of the back bedroom window to take a few shots of the back yard garden.  Before I go off to my visit of Momma Robin.

Back yard, 5-5-11

      This shot is from of our little private garden next to the house, then off across the lawn and out to the flower and vegetable garden in back.  Our lot is 100 by 220, so almost exactly 1/2 an acre.  Enough to keep me more than busy.  The red Japanese maple is in the bottom right corner of this shot.  Hosta to the left of the maple, and the Bleeding Heart in bloom to the left of the walk.

White Ash Tree, 5-5-11

      Panning to the left a bit is the White Ash tree that casts such a pretty shadow across the lawn in the early morning.  The large Pin Oak tree in the back ground is the culprit and cause for me to seek out my addition of the park garden to get a sunny spot for squash, peppers and tomatoes.  If you remember the tomato pictures from the back yard from last August, you could question that need.  But then I don't have garden buddies and robin's nests in my back yard garden.  Just a corner of the deck can be seen in this picture.

Soon to be much enjoyed, again, 5-5-11

      Here is a shot of the deck.  Where we will be "Deckadent" on many a lovely summer evening.  Hauling the pick-em-up truckload of 12 foot boards in a 6 foot bed on I-95 in heavy traffic was not one of my more brilliant moments.  The lumber yard probably would have delivered for free if I had not had to start the project at that very moment.  A friend insisted that I buy stainless steel nails for the project.  I thank him every time I sit out on the deck and miss seeing rust spots everywhere.  Even years ago I think it was eleven cents a nail.  I banged in lots of elevens.  The picnic table used in some of the header shots of the blog is at the far end of the deck.  Just to the left of the table but out of the picture is the porch which has featured in quite a few blog posts.
Private Garden, 5-5-11

      Dropping back closer to the house is our little private garden, a space which we don't get the time to enjoy as much as we should.  Though Cindy enjoys this spot, as the view is right outside the window where her computer resides.  The clump of green to the left of the shot are the hellebores after finally loosing their blossoms, and the Weigelia can be seen blooming in the bottom left corner.  The hummingbird feeder has been the site of some intense aerial skirmishes.

Back Yard, 5-5-11

      And now walking out to the back, a little closer shot of the garden.  The long pile on the right is the result of running the lawn tractor repeatedly over the BIG leaf pile from the fall.  Now it needs to be used or moved to make room for the tomatoes to go in next week with more settled weather in the forecast.  The Pin Oak on the left will cast a lot of mid afternoon shade.

Back to the house, 5-5-11 
      Looking back to the house from the garden you see the porch on the right side.  The neighbor's house to the right is almost due south, so the porch has a short southern side exposure, with more glass facing west.  Not ideal, but no complaints.  The large glass expanse with the glass roof to the left of the porch is the kitchen.  We knocked out an exterior wall and replaced it with a mostly glass 6 foot by 16 foot addition.  It is amazing how much light it brings in even on dark days.  Although we keep some plants inside the kitchen, it is by no means a greenhouse :-(   The deck is in front of the kitchen, looking out over the back garden.  The little "Private garden" is to the far left, to the left of the ash tree.
      Now you have had a tour of the back yard and garden.  Now I had better get to working on it! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

No Till Gardening

      When we moved into our current home, there was a vegetable garden already in the back yard.  The problem was that the previous owner was a chemical oriented gardener, and there was literally no organic matter in a slick clay slop.  It was October, and it must have been wet that fall, so the whole garden was a slippery, slick mess.  Lengths of 2 x 4s were scattered about the garden to provide safe places to walk.  I started adding wood chips and leaves that very first year.  Not having a roto tiller and not wanting to spend the money for one, I must have become a no till gardener by accident, long before the method was as popular as it is today.  So in the 32 years that we have been here, my garden has never been tilled.  I remember trying the double dig method for maybe 1/2 an hour, before figuring out that method is really a lot of work.  Let the worms do it, they love it.
      No till gardening has lots of benefits, not the least of which is the appearance of a bunch of volunteer seedlings.  Unlike most gardeners who rip out older ready to seed veggies, I encourage them to grow on to produce their seed.

Bellevue, 5-3-11

      Many things are in seed quite early because they overwintered in the cold frames.  All the better as I will have fresh seed and volunteers for the fall season.  The white flowering plants are arugula, the yellow are various cole crops like mustards, kale, and collards.  For some reason, the cole crops for me are breeding true, rather than crossing willy nilly as suggested by the literature.  The lettuce, spinach and chicories are soon to bolt and put up seed stalks.

Bellevue, 5-3-11

      The plant on the left is a very mild tasting mustard that overwintered under some leaf protection.  I am going to save that seed for its winter hardiness.  The plants in the middle are Beedy's Kale.  I like this variety, and the seed crop failed at Fedco last year, so I will be happy to have my own supply.
       By not tilling, seeds from garden plants have a better job of coming up naturally in both the beds and the paths.  Path volunteers need transplanting to better areas.  Mulch can not be added in deep quantities at inopportune times, as that would kill the seedlings as it does the weeds.  The weed problem is far less with no tilling, as weed seeds are not continually tilled back to the surface.  On to the volunteers:

Sunflower to be, 5-3-11

Bellevue, 5-3-11

      On the far left is baby Lamb's Quarter, a dreaded weed to many, but quite edible and delicious when young and tender.  It has a very nice nutty flavor, and the deep taproot draws nutrients from deep in the soil to be added to the compost pile.  I actually transplanted some to the garden last year, but it is now freely self seeding.  To the right of it is a small celery plant, really not needed as I have millions in their own patch.  The plant that looks like a little carrot is actually going to be a cosmos.  As I have not started my seeds at home yet, it thrills me to be finding numerous cosmos coming up on their own.

Red Sails Lettuce and Sunflower, 5-3-11

Even more Sunflowers, 5-3-11

Bellevue, 5-3-11

      Nestled in among the overwintered onions are several volunteer lettuce babies and some red russian kale.  Carrot seed from my own collected carrot tops was broadcast amongst the onions in the fall.  Lots of carrots the size of my pinkie strongly hint it might be my most successful carrot year ever (pretty easy thing to accomplish).

Bellevue, 5-3-11

      More beautiful volunteer red lettuce, with feathery volunteer chamomile below it on the right.  To the left is a corner of the volunteer celery patch.

More lettuce, celery, and a sunflower, 3-3-11

Celery, celery, and more celery, 5-3-11

     Fellow gardener John V gave me a couple of celery plants last year.  True to form, I let them flower and seed.  Now I have millions of celery volunteers, others significantly larger than these.  I hope to get my first edible celery this year from these naturalized plants.  Home grown celery can be very strong flavored, more usable for soup stock than eating raw.  I have not tried the blanching routine yet, maybe this will be the first year.
      The baby tomato volunteers are just now starting to sprout.  Maybe that is an indication that the starts can go in the ground?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Robin update

Lou's Pride

      Lou's Robin was the leader over in the park, having four eggs for quite some time.  As a matter of fact, she had five at one time, but Lou saw her fly off with one and drop it in another plot.  Robins are reported to know when cowbirds lay an egg in the robin's nest and then to take some corrective action.  Maybe this was such a case.

My Robin's nest, 4/29/11

      My robin is trying to make up for lost time.  She added a third egg a day after the second egg.  This is a good thing, as Lou is enjoying his reign as Robin king just a little too much.

And then there were four, 5/1/11

      On my visit to the park yesterday, I was happy to find the fourth egg.  So Lou, now we have an even battle going.  He will have the first chicks though, as he has a head start and it only takes two weeks for the eggs to hatch.  And then only another two weeks for the babies to fly off!

Screech, screech, screech, 5/1/11

      Momma robin is none too happy with my visits to the park.  You can see her perched at the gardener's feet just a garden over.  Screeching.  Just wait until the babies hatch.  I read that the parents dive bomb on intruders then.  Oh joy.  And they can have up to three broods a season.  Luckily on a new nest.  Hopefully not in another corner of my compost pile.